In light of a recent tweet saying that the thought of assassinating President Barack Obama was “tempting,” Zevenia Dennis argues although we have the right to freedom of speech, people must think before they act.
The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights states that the people have the right to freedom of speech and expression. It is that right which has made America an ideal country to live in. However, in recent times it seems that such a luxury of American law has been revoked. While the laws still hold up in the judicial system, it is evident that freedom of speech and expression without censorship is not always condoned in the United States, especially at the risk of a public figure and therefore, people must think before they react.
On Nov. 16, Lauren E. Pierce, President of the College Republicans at the University of Texas, tweeted that the thought of assassinating President Barack Obama was “tempting.” Approximately two hours after the tweet, police arrested a man for firing shots at the White House. ABC News had a field day with the posted tweet, painting a portrait of Pierce as an unapologetic nuisance after exposing that it was just a “joke” to her, and that the shooting was “stupid.”
There was no concrete reason to place a warrant for the arrest of Pierce and no evidence of her supporting the shooting, but the media made note to highlight this tweet as verbally offensive. Apparently it had struck a sensitive chord with people, but the real question is why? Why was the tweet taken seriously? Why was Pierce suddenly on trial by media onslaught at the discretion of a tweet?
Pierce could have said that same remark about a John Doe and the tweet would not have received such publicity. But because it was about the president it quickly transformed into an issue with a magnitude reflecting national security. Within hours this lone tweet had went viral and Pierce had become a supporter of assassinating Obama, or rather, thinking the idea was “tempting.” All of such the aftermath of a tweet gone wrong, but the media cannot be the blame.
Social networks are not only the biggest forum of free speech, but also the newest medium to track threats via Internet. Pierce may have not meant any harm in her tweet, but who would assume such without knowing her personally. The limits of freedom of speech and expression tread on the thin border of opinion and verbal offense. Pierce swam deep in that water when she made the decision to tweet irresponsibly about the president of the U.S.
It goes without question that while America prides itself on freedoms, it comes with a threat to safety. Pierce’s tweet not only offended a great many of Obama supporters, but also more importantly threatened his security. After an event, such as the shooting that had taken place, Pierce would have been wise to think before she tweeted.
Restraint is strongly emphasized to students each day. Stories have circulated during the years of companies firing employees because of distasteful content on Facebook pages and now tweets on Twitter.
While no corrective action was taken against Pierce, this one mishap will follow her well into her future. It’s a good lesson to learn that once information is on the Internet it’s permanently accessible. While Pierce was exercising her right to freedom of speech she should have been mindful of the audience that would receive it. As with many young adults the thought to censor a harmless post often occurs after the fact, when in reality it should be thought of in advance.
Zevenia Dennis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.